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Heart failure after pregnancy: Brittany’s story

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Brittany Clayborne and her son, Micah.

I have the privilege of seeing many patients who – despite dealing with significant heart conditions such as congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, or enlarged heart – continue to keep an upbeat, positive attitude throughout treatment.

But sometimes a patient’s spirit is particularly uplifting. Thirty-year-old Brittany Clayborne of Dallas is such a person. Brittany has a rare condition called peripartum cardiomyopathy, which is a sudden weakness of the heart muscle. It occurs within a month before delivery of a child or within five months after, most commonly right after delivery.

About one in every 2,000 to 3,000 pregnant women develops this condition, and it’s a devastating illness. These are new mothers dealing with all that’s involved with being a new parent, and they also must deal with the sudden onset of a heart disease that saps them of strength and makes breathing difficult. For some it means they cannot have more children.

Fortunately, many women recover over a period of several weeks to several months. Some women who had peripartum cardiomyopathy are even able to go on and have other children. Unfortunately, some peripartum cardiomyopathy patients never recover.

Brittany is one of those patients with a less optimistic prognosis. She developed a secondary problem called ventricular tachycardia – when one of the chambers of the heart sometimes beats too fast. The condition requires her to have an internal defibrillator implanted to control her speeding heartbeat. She’s now on our waiting list for a heart transplant.

Facing all that with a positive attitude is impressive on its own. But what makes Brittany’s story even more uplifting is the idea she came up with while lying in her hospital bed. I’ll let Brittany tell you more in her own words:

“I delivered my son, Micah, on a Sunday in 2011 and went home from the hospital on the following Tuesday, feeling fine. On Friday, I was feeling short of breath and went back to the hospital. They started me on medication, and I got back to my life. I was raising a child and working, and I didn’t have time to think too much about it.

“But in 2012, I started having dizzy spells, a result of my racing heartbeat. I ended up having a defibrillator implanted to steady my heartbeat. One day, I was home cutting up cantaloupe when I got a shock from the defibrillator, which happens if the heartbeat gets out of control.

“I told my family to pray for my son, who’s now 4, because I knew we’d be separated for a while.

"After I was hospitalized, the doctors informed me I’d need a transplant. There is a huge gap between the number of people who donate and the number of people who need organs. This hit me really hard. I felt I needed to do something.

“I woke up in the hospital one morning with an idea for a website, and I launched HeartUNfailure.com that evening. The point of the website is to spread the message about the need for people to sign up to be organ donors. The numbers are skewed. Not many people sign up to be donors.

“My friends and I are in our 30s. People our age don’t often think about organ donation. But it’s really important for people of all ages and all walks of life to sign up to be donors. And it’s simple to do. The website contains a map people can click on that takes them to the donor registry for their state.

“I am a daughter, wife, mother, sister, granddaughter, aunt, niece, and friend. So I need to speak out − not just for me and my family, but for families everywhere who may not have a voice. I have heart failure, but I still feel invincible.”

In the midst of her own serious illness, while hospitalized, Brittany was thinking of other patients, and used her talents and skills to help them. It was a privilege for me to help take care of such a remarkable young woman.

Organ donation is a personal choice. You can sign up to be an organ donor on the Donate Life Texas website.

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